How Love is Not What We May Often Think it Is

Maria Popova is a wonderful curator of wisdom – her blog, Brain Pickings, is her treasure chest unlocked for anyone to draw wealth from. One of her best gold coins, to me at least, is this post about love as explained by the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hahn. I’ll quote what she quotes and offer some thoughts.

“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.” “How to Love,” Hahn.

One of the concepts of Buddhism that has confused and guided me is “no self,” which I think means to be egoless, humble, selfless.

When Hahn above talks about an immense river, he offers a metaphor of a big heart, which also means a small ego.

A large ego requires a great deal of maintenance, feeding on what others can offer it and perhaps also seeking to destroy others who threaten it. In this context, to say, “I love you,” means you sustain my ego, and to say, “I hate you,” means you threaten my ego.

But, from the context of no self, to say, “I love you,” is to say I understand you, embrace you, have empathy for you, and your happiness is my happiness and we are small parts of larger whole.

And, from this context, there simply is no “I hate you.”

I imagine that when each of us has a river that is immense, instead of saying “I love you,” we would eliminate the “I” and say something like, “Love flows from within me to you and from within you to me until the boundaries of me and you wash away.”

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